You’re already convinced that leadership skills are important. You’ve decided that you want to be the kind of leader that inspires others to be their best every day instead of ruling through fear and intimidation. You know who you want to be and where you want to go. Now you’re asking, how do I get there?
There’s no shortage of advice on how to be a leader. You can find thousands of books with different skills, techniques, and styles. There are workshops, courses and programs that promise to teach you how to lead just like the latest darling founder from the startup world or CEO from the Fortune 500.
The problem with that is that you are not those people. You are your own person. You have your own knowledge, experience and talents that should be reflected in your leadership. You want to develop your own unique leadership style based on who you are and who you want to be, not just be a carbon copy of another leader.
Practice Every Day
The first thing to understand in developing our leadership skills and styles is that there are no finish lines in leadership. What we know and practice today will almost certainly be different from what we will need to know and practice tomorrow. What worked yesterday may not work today. We need to treat leadership as a study and a discipline. It’s not like one day we look up and say “I’m a leader now. Leadership is something that we must practice every day, like a sport or musical instrument. By practicing every day, we reinforce our leadership skills in a relatively calm environment so that we have them down pat when we must provide leadership in a crisis.
Be a Lifelong Learner
The best leaders approach their lives from a perspective of lifelong learning. Adopting this approach to leadership is the best way to get started on your leadership journey. There are several ways you can become a student of leadership now, even if you are not directly in charge of anyone else in your job or business.
Read about leadership – While reading the latest best seller about leadership or business can give us great ideas to adopt into our own leadership practice, don’t end your study there. Find biographies of leaders you admire (or despise!). Discover the experiences that shaped them as leaders and how they overcame the challenges they faced in their careers. Find what you like about their leadership styles and incorporate it into your own. Conversely, avoid adopting the parts of their style that conflict with your values or don’t work for you.
Observe other leaders in action – There are leaders all around us every day. Our peers, superiors, subordinates, and even inspirational figures are practicing leadership all the time. What leadership traits and skills do you see in them. What works for them and what doesn’t? Do they succeed because of their leadership style or despite it?
Talk about leadership – You’re not alone on your leadership journey. I’m sure you know others who want to become strong leaders too. Share what you are learning from them and encourage them to share their stories and lessons as well. Find a mentor who is a little further along on their journey so you can use them as a sounding board about how you’re developing your own leadership skills. Even better, be a mentor to someone else! There’s no better way to learn that by teaching another person.
Think about Leadership – Factor leadership into your decision making. When you make choices in life, ask “what choice will help me become the kind of leader I want to be?” Following that path may be more challenging than the most expedient way to solve the problem but will provide you with a richer experience. If you are already the leader of a team, start thinking about how to develop the leadership skills of your team members. It may be more efficient to take care of a task yourself but delegating it to someone on your team gives them a valuable chance to grow and will make your team stronger in the future.
As we talked about earlier, good leadership is a discipline and study. Adopting these four practices into your daily routine will help you develop and refine your unique leadership style.
Look for Opportunities
We don’t need to be formally assigned as the boss to be a leader. There are opportunities to lead all around us. People are always looking for leaders. Look for a project that your boss is looking for someone to take on at work. Get involved in a non-profit in your community. Coach a team or find a group in your area looking for some help. These are all great chances to challenge ourselves and exercise our leadership skills in a way that might be outside of our comfort zone. To truly get the benefits of leadership it can’t be an afterthought, we need to build it into our lives every day.
Self-reflection is a key component of being an effective leader. In addition to looking for opportunities to lead others, we always need to be looking for opportunities for self-reflection. What did we learn from the way we approached a problem? Were we successful? What were the root causes of success or failure? How were our relationships or reputation impacted by the way we handled the situation? Could we have approached the situation differently even if the outcome was successful? Taking time for self-reflection gives us a chance to honestly evaluate if we are living up to our values and growing into the kind of leader we want to be.
Start Your Journey
I’m truly excited that you have taken active steps to improve your leadership skills. The road is long and hard at times. Some days are better than others, for sure. If you wake up every day ready to take on the challenge of leadership, treat it as a practice and a discipline, you will find it incredibly satisfying and rewarding. Good luck on your journey!